Why did Bride of the Fat White Vampire tank, compared with the first book? Who knows? I don’t think the folks at Del Rey know. It happens that way, sometimes. The sequel could have been a victim of the practice of “ordering to net,” which I describe below; my royalties statements tend to point in this direction. I completed my option book, Calorie 3501 (to be eventually published in 2009 as The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501), a few months before Bride of the Fat White Vampire went on sale and had Dan submit it to my editor at Del Rey. More than six months passed before the editor got back to us with an answer – he’d buy it, but at a significantly reduced advance. Considering the delay and other issues (and the fact that neither Dan nor I were privy to the initial sales figures for Bride), Dan and I were insulted. We decided to shop the new book around. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we should’ve taken the Del Rey offer while it was still on the table. It would be four more l-o-o-o-n-g years before I’d find a buyer for Calorie 3501. And the advance I eventually happily accepted in 2008 was less than a fifth of the advance I’d scornfully rejected in 2004.
So, you become a “former mid-lister” by halving your sales from your first book to your second, then by selling your third book to a teeny-tiny publisher four years later. At one time in the publishing industry, between, say, 1930 and the mid- to late 1990s, editors at the large houses had the pull to stick with an author for four or five books, looking to slowly build the author’s readership. Since then, however, most editors have seen their clout subsumed by that of the Profit-and-Loss (P&L) folks, the numbers-crunchers, publishing bureaucrats who see BookScan figures walz through their dreams. According to the P&L folks, it’s not three strikes, but one strike, and you’re out! I hit a solid double with Fat White Vampire Blues. With Bride, however, I whiffed. I was OUT. An editor at one of the big six houses would have to fall in total lust with one of my manuscripts and expect it to sell like the Bible in order for him to be willing to head into battle with the P&L Department on my behalf. Otherwise, I just wasn’t worth the bother. Especially not during times when every editor feared for his or her job, when it was more important to avoid failure than it was to not miss out on success.
In the meantime, stuff happened (note: spell “stuff” s-h-i-t). Suddenly, my oh-so-brilliant plan to cut back my day job to half-time looked like a financial disaster in the making. I backpedaled furiously, emphasizing to my superiors at the Office of Public Health all the problems with the new computer system-in-progress which was supposed to make me half-redundant. I didn’t invent any of the problems and delays, but I must admit that I didn’t work like a Tasmanian devil to fix them, either. I let the contractor take his own, sweet time. Meanwhile, my wife and I welcomed a second son to our family. And then there was a little tropical disturbance known to many as Hurricane Katrina. My family and I ended up far more fortunate than lots of our friends and neighbors, as our house was located on the West Bank of the Mississippi, in a different flood zone than the bulk of New Orleans; our levees didn’t fall apart, although if the storm had made landfall fifteen miles to the west, they certainly would have. Although we didn’t flood, we were trapped outside the city for two months, and we had to replace our roof, gutters, and fences. More significantly, my wife lost her job when the storm washed away her worksite. Suddenly, with little more than half our former income, we found ourselves financially eligible for the very same food assistance program that I’d been managing for almost fifteen years. My agent Dan passed away on Thanksgiving of that year. My web master’s house was inundated when the levees broke, and he disappeared; I let my website die of neglect and lost my domain name to a porn site. I searched for another job. I sold Saturn cars and SUVs for a few months, not long before the brand was abolished by a bankrupt General Motors (it wasn’t my fault, honest!). I ended up working a temporary job for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had come under intense criticism for its tardy response after the storm and for problems with the house trailers it provided to tens of thousands of flooded-out New Orleanians. My wife and I were blessed with a third son. I managed to secure a new job in Washington, DC just before my temporary job with FEMA ended – after suffering through eighteen months of increasingly nerve-wracking job hunting. My family and I bid a sad farewell to New Orleans, where all of my children had been born and where I’d lived for twenty-two years; where I had once dreamed that I’d gradually age into a well-known and beloved local character.
The preceding tale of woe has been a rather longwinded answer to a question some of my readers may have, which is, “Where have you been since Bride of the Fat White Vampire and how come you haven’t been writing anything more and how come you don’t have a website?” Well, I have been writing; I may not be a Barry N. Malzberg when it comes to speed, but five and a half novels in eight years ain’t bupkis (and one of those novels took me three years to write). I just haven’t been publishing, with the exception of my pleasant experience with Tachyon. I haven’t had a website since 2005 because I’ve been lazy and a procrastinator and because I’ve been waiting for an appropriate occasion to set one up again. Guess what? That occasion has finally arrived.
Papa’s got a brand-new groove. A newfangled way of doin’ bidness. A fresh avenue through which to get my stuff out to you, the readers.